Since inception, the OUS Nature Center has attracted student volunteers who have a genuine interest in nature and the environment. Many of the students have been interested in working toward a degree that would allow them to work for the US Forest Service or similar State or Federal Agency after graduation. Most of the OUS students who are interested in this area are non-traditional students. These students have spent time in the work-a-day world and come back to school to improve their life style. All too often, the non-traditional students have financial and/or family commitments that prevent them from leaving the area to complete a degree. To accommodate these students, they have been allowed to achieve a degree that is a self-designed four year Bachelor of Specialized Studies. Through this program two students are now employed by the US Forest Service and one by the Corp of Engineers. This is phenomenal success for a short five-year period of the Nature Center’s existence but there is a down-side. Students seeking entry into this degree program must design a course of study that is different from any course of study offered by Ohio University, on any campus.
Because of the short comings, students and personnel in State and Federal agencies have suggested that a degree program be developed to meet the needs of the students as well as the agencies. Agencies have requirements for Bachelor of Science Degrees. This will require addition of upper division Biological Science classes to the Southern campus curriculum. The Ranger for the Ironton District of The Wayne National Forest has agreed to chair an advisory committee for the development of the degree program. The first stage for development of the Naturalist Degree is underway.
Today, educators are accepting models of instruction that are radically different from traditional educational approaches. Teaching is dynamic and clearly much more than understanding one’s own discipline and delivering lectures that overwhelm students. The traditional approach, which, in the past, focused on the performance of instructors, is giving way to active, student-centered teaching and learning methods. If one cannot adequately demonstrate to students why it is important for them to acquire a particular knowledge, it is an instructional failure as much as a learning failure. Unfortunately, students have been conditioned to sit passively while instructors demonstrate their dominion of subject matter. Such demonstrations are futile when they are not focused upon or linked with the knowledge status and the interests of learners. This philosophy is clearly incorporated into the Nature Center mission, “Where Learning Comes Alive.” Here, higher order thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of problems, concepts, and theories can be developed and promoted rather than just memorization of “facts” that are forgotten shortly thereafter. By conducting student-centered teaching techniques that promote active student participation as a learning process, students learn how to find and retrieve information crucial to problems or questions being posed. Classes used to be conducted by following the “cookbook.” Today, in many classes, the student is asked to create the “cookbook”.
To expand this philosophy of teaching, the Naturalist Degree program will strive toward the undergraduate research approach in most of the new course offerings.